Integrative Pet Vet column: Cats and digestive disorders
Integrative Pet Vet
Cats are often affected by digestive disorders that result in vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. The cause of the digestive disorder can range from simple to life threatening. Simple problems include temporary stomach irritation caused by something like a hairball. An example of a life-threatening challenge would be a foreign body like string causing damage to the intestine.
Not all vomiting or diarrhea is caused by something directly affecting the stomach or intestines. Sometimes digestive problems result from poor liver or kidney function. With such a wide range of causes, selecting appropriate supportive care requires a clear assessment and diagnosis.
Interestingly, cats can vomit much easier then a person. Anyone that has given a pill to an uncooperative cat and watched them vomit the pill can attest to this. Cats have more voluntary control of vomiting than a person. This is true of many of the carnivores. Therefore, it is important to recognize that the act of vomiting does not give a clear indication of the cause.
While vomiting is often associated with stomach problems, issues with the small and large intestines can also result in vomiting. Think about the intestine that is having problems. The intestine signals the stomach not to send any food. This stop signal can tell the stomach to empty itself by vomiting. Of course this depends on the severity of the intestinal issue. There are many causes of stomach, small intestine or large intestine dysfunction. These include food allergies, hairballs, bacterial infections, cancer, foreign bodies, viral infections and intestinal parasites. Indirect causes for vomiting could be issues like kidney and liver failure, and pancreatitis.
Many of these same causes of vomiting can also lead to diarrhea. Consistency of the stools can range from normal firmness and form to liquid. Volume of the stool and urgency can give clues to the area of problem. For example, a large volume of stool without urgency is generally a small intestine problem. The presence of mucus and fresh blood is usually a large intestine problem. Sometimes the diarrhea is both small and large intestine in origin.
Many digestive upsets are mild and will sort themselves out with or without any interventions. The more serious problems are the ones that need attention. Recognizing the more serious problem early can be the challenge. Concern increases for the cat that is repeatedly vomiting in a short period of time, has frequent bouts of diarrhea especially when they are liquid or contain fresh blood, is becoming progressively more lethargic, has stopped eating, or is showing signs of abdominal discomfort. Dehydration can become a concern.
These cats should be seen by your veterinarian so that appropriate diagnostic tests can be run and supportive care can be initiated. In addition to a careful review of the history of the illness and a physical examination, your veterinarian may recommend blood tests to evaluate blood cell counts, kidney, liver and pancreas. Tests for intestinal parasites and viral infections could be considered. X-rays and ultrasound of the abdomen can sometimes be essential.
Once the assessment is complete and a diagnosis or presumptive diagnosis is made, a support or treatment plan can be implemented. This plan may involve simple steps like giving fluid under the skin and fasting followed by a bland diet, or the plan may be more involved, requiring intravenous fluids, multiple medications or even surgery. The more severe problems require more aggressive care.
In addition to selected conventional medical care, integrative approaches like slippery elm, which provides soothing effects for the digestive tract, probiotics that aid in restoring balance to the intestinal flora, and acupuncture, which can help improve digestive function, can be implemented. Avoidance of certain food ingredients can be essential for managing food allergy or sensitivity problems.
If your pet is having digestive problems, contact your veterinarian to discuss ways to diagnose the problem and to implement beneficial care.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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